Robert Hillmer Award 2008: Wai Lau

Wai Lau,

Wai Lau, Linda Brown and Don Lawrence

Wai’s Speech
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some fantastic administrators over the years and Linda is one of them. Linda may not remember this, but I remember the first one on one interaction that I had with her. My girls’ basketball team had qualified for OFSSA and I was worried about the cost to the players. The girls had already spent over $125 each for the season. I told Linda about my concern. Without hesitating, Linda told me that she had $700 and hoped that it would help. Linda always had the motto “nothing but our best”, and it was something she expected and adhered to in all her dealings with her staff. Thank you again Linda for all your support over the years.

On the note of principals, working as part of the OBEA executive has also provided me with one of my most cherished memories. As a student of Central High School of Commerce in Toronto, my principal was Ms Marie Smibert, the first female high school principal in Toronto. As you can surmise, that was a long time ago. It was a great school, particularly if you were a male. As a commercial school, there were 2000 girls and 200 boys.

I remember as a Grade 9 student being called to see the principal. Scared and almost shaking with fear, my mind was replaying all the bad things that could have resulted in my being called down. It was a long walk because that was a long list. Face to face with Ms Smibert for the first time, she looked 10 feet tall. I must have been much shorter back then. However, rather than punishing me, Marie offered me a chocolate for making the honour roll. Marie did that for every honour student. Every term, I would meet Marie for that piece of chocolate.

Thirty years later, I was able to reacquaint myself with Marie. Unknown to her, I discovered that we were going to attend a dinner. It was a pleasure to watch her being surprised as I was able to offer her some chocolate and thank her for her kindness decades ago. It is those types of memories that have made my involvement with OBEA and business education so valued.

I am honoured and humbled to receive the Robert Hillmer Award. Being associated with past recipients, all whom I highly respect and many that I know, makes this award very special. I would like to thank my nominator and the OBEA executive for this award.

While the Hillmer Award is presented to an individual, there are a number of special people who have guided and inspired my over my 21 years as a business teacher. Without these people, I would still be using the abacus and writing debits and credits with charcoal on a slate.

I was fortunate to have started my career when department heads had fewer teaching periods and were able to mentor rookies. Anne Sheppard, the Head of Business at Glencoe District High School was a great mentor. After some classes, we would reflect on what went well and how to improve.

It was Anne who got me involved in OBEA. In one of those mentoring sessions, Anne suggested that I should become the district councilor for Middlesex County, which is now part of Thames Valley. According to Anne, the job only required the registration, distribution and collection of district contests. It was only for one year, until the incumbent councilor returned from leave.

While Anne was a fantastic teacher, I believe she did miss out on her true calling. Eighteen years later, I was still waiting for that councilor to return from her leave. Anne would have cleaned up selling Enron and Bre-X stock to unsuspecting rookies.

As the current and previous OBEA executives can attest to, it is very difficult to leave once they have their hooks in you. It took a leave of absence, a plane ticket to another continent-South America, and a trek to Machu Picchu to leave OBEA. I figured that since the Spanish conquistadors couldn’t find the lost city, it might be a safe haven.

But, seriously, while it is a lot of work, getting involved in OBEA is a great experience and I highly recommend it. I know that there is at least one district councilor’s position available and it’s only for one year. So, if you are interested….see me later.

One of the earliest and most important lessons that I learnt while working in OBEA was that Fred Buck and Linda Brown were not married to each other. At that time, Fred was the Membership VP and Linda was involved with PD. The first time I met them together, they were disembarking from a car and everyone in the hotel reception would hear the sniping and snide comments that they hurdled to each other. As a passing observer, I thought that they had been a happily married couple for two years, while for the other 23 years they were not so happily married.

Later I discovered that Fred and Linda had been friends for decades and were happily married, but thankfully not to each other. They taught me that people could disagree passionately and still be friends.

One of the benefits of spending countless hours on volunteer work is meeting great individuals. Two of the most dedicated and enthusiastic individuals that I have every met are Linda Brown and Don Lawrence. They have become good friends. During the hectic years in the OBEA executive, almost every day Linda would call. It got to the point when at 10 am, my fellow teachers at Aurora High would hang up the phone and clear the lines because Linda would be phoning. The office would automatically patch Linda’s call to the classroom. To Linda, yes meant yes, maybe meant yes and no meant yes. It’s a good thing that she isn’t an English teacher.

Three years ago, I was fortunate to have been part of the curriculum review process for Business Studies. It was a joy to see the professionalism and dedication shown by some of the finest business teachers in the province. Many of them are in this room.

One of the most endearing memories of that process involved Don Lawrence. As many of you know, Don is the guru for entrepreneurial studies. It was refreshing to see him, as the lead, work collaboratively and be open to suggestions from all parties in order to fine tune the curriculum for our students. Don’s leadership is an inspiration that I try to emulate.

One group of people I would like to thank for making me a better teacher is the special students that every teacher comes across-once in a while. As a coach and supervisor, I’ve been able to work with many students I would otherwise not have had the pleasure to know. It’s the simple smiles and thank you that make those 6:30 morning practices and weekend tournaments worthwhile.

Hearing players call me Lausy and saying what-up Lau and knowing that they are compliments, show the generation gap that every teacher develops while we age and the students are always the same age. But, more importantly, it shows the connection we have with some of our students.

While it may be difficult for many teachers, I would highly encourage you to think about getting involved in your schools beyond the classroom. I have gained as much as the students.

There are many other fine individuals who have inspired and led me to become a better teacher. I can’t do justice in this speech to express my appreciation. However, I accept this award on your behalf.